College Sports

The best player in the Big East comes from the metro-east

Former Mater Dei star is Big East player of the year

Former Breese Mater Dei Catholic High School Crusaders girls basketball player Brooke Schulte, who stars for the DePaul University NCAA women's basketball team, was named Big East Conference player of the year. Schulte starred for the Crusaders pl
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Former Breese Mater Dei Catholic High School Crusaders girls basketball player Brooke Schulte, who stars for the DePaul University NCAA women's basketball team, was named Big East Conference player of the year. Schulte starred for the Crusaders pl

When Brooke Schulte brings her DePaul University basketball teammates from Chicago to her Clinton County hometown of Germantown, most have no idea what to expect.

“The water tower’s in my backyard, the fire house is to my right, the doctor’s office is right there,” Schulte said. “They’re just completely amazed that I went to a high school that had 400 kids in it when they went to a high school that had 3,000 kids.”

They also are probably amazed that tiny Germantown and Mater Dei High School in Breese has produced the unanimous Big East Conference Women’s Basketball Player of the Year. Schulte also was a unanimous first-team All-Big East selection and winner of the league’s Most Improved Player and Scholar-Athlete Awards

A 5-foot-9 senior guard and an integral part of three straight NCAA Tournament teams at DePaul, Schulte averages a team-leading 16.4 points along with six rebounds and 2.8 assists. The senior guard is a driving force for the 25-7 and 17th-ranked Blue Demons women’s basketball team, which is headed back to the NCAA Tournament.

While his daughter might be the best delivery Joe Schulte ever made during his frequent trips from Clinton County to Chicago, some others are just as popular.

Among the most anticipated items are cases of Ski citrus soda from Excel Bottling Company in Breese — in the favored green glass, old-school returnable bottles, of course — and various configurations of deer sausage.

“Brooke takes care of the entire staff with deer hot sticks and deer sausage,” DePaul women’s basketball coach Doug Bruno said. “As much as Brooke Schulte scores, we’re also going to miss Brooke’s hot sticks and deer sausage from Papa Joe. Her dad is a great deer hunter.”

The Ski is for 23-year-old Brooke and her roommate and teammate, Lauren Prochaska.

“She’s a big advocate of Ski,” Brooke said. “I think she drinks about three-fourths of the case.”

Most scorers have a scorer’s mentality that almost borders on selfishness. She’s the most selfless scorer I’ve ever coached.

DePaul women’s basketball coach Doug Bruno

Special quality

Uncertain about her college career after her freshman season ended with a painful ACL injury, Schulte did what she used to do back home at Mater Dei: work even harder.

Schulte was all-state in basketball and volleyball at Mater Dei, where she played a role in back-to-back state volleyball championships.

Bruno wasn’t exactly sure what he had in Schulte, especially after the injury. But he saw her as an aggressive player and scorer, exactly what he’s getting from her this season.

“What she’s doing is really what I envisioned her doing,” he said. “This is what we saw her do at Mater Dei. Kids don’t automatically translate to that same level of effectiveness in high school to what they do in college, but I always felt there was something more in there.”

Bruno was right, but sees another special quality in Schulte.

“I wish I had figured it out sooner; that she’s a really, really quality scorer, has a great nose to put the ball in the basket,” he said. “Most scorers have a scorer’s mentality that almost borders on selfishness. She’s the most selfless scorer I’ve ever coached.”

Schulte credited her family upbringing and parents Joe and Lynn for that, along with Mater Dei volleyball coaches Fred Rakers and Chad Rakers and basketball coach Dave Kohnen.

“Any sport you play, it’s a team sport,” Schulte said. “Everything I was raised around, it was about facilitating and getting your teammates the ball, then good things would come. I’m aggressive and I have a knack for scoring; coach saw that in me and wanted to push that out of me.

“But I’d definitely choose a win any day over scoring any mount of points. That’s all I care about, that we play a good game and get the win.”

The water tower’s in my backyard, the fire house is to my right, the doctor’s office is right there. They’re just completely amazed that I went to a high school that had 400 kids in it when they went to a high school that had 3,000 kids.

Brooke Schulte on bringing teammates to Germantown

Joe Schulte was a talented pitcher at Mater Dei and in college who reached the Class AAA level with the Houston Astros. He understands sports, but also understands his daughter.

“She gets into a funk every now and then so I send her a (text) message before every game,” Joe Schulte said. “I just tell her good luck and remember, arm up and follow through.”

Brooke’s message back to dad is usually the same.

“I know Daddy — and I love you.”

Battling back

Schulte’s freshman season in 2012 blew up when she suffered an ACL injury during a game day shoot-around in mid-December.

“I just made a wrong move and it just buckled, then I went down,” Schulte said. “I found out later it was torn. I had surgery and the whole process was very rigorous. It obviously was an emotional roller-coaster for me.”

Throughout the rehabilitation and pain, the setbacks and steps forward, Schulte’s goal was to come back as a better player after the medical redshirt season.

“It made me stronger, especially physically,” said Schulte, who pushed her vertical jump to more than 30 inches and now can squat more than 320 pounds. “I’m a quicker, better and faster player by going through rehab. It was a blessing in disguise because it gave me the time to slow down in my head mentally because the transition to Division I basketball is so immense.

“It helped having my teammates here with me and pushing me, there were a lot of other athletes who went through it. It definitely helped me prepare for my next year.”

Schulte’s effect at DePaul has grown with each season. She began contributing as a redshirt freshman, then kept progressing to the point where she averaged 8.6 points last season as a junior.

Basketball doesn’t care where you come from. It’s about the qualities that your head, heart and soul have that transcend where you’re from.

DePaul coach Doug Bruno

DePaul was rocked by injuries this season, which led to a bigger role for Schulte than she might have expected.

Along with injuries to juniors Mart’e Grays and Ashton Millender, the big blow was a December injury to star forward Jessica January that kept her out of the lineup for most of the Big East Conference season.

Schulte’s scoring average jumped from 11.2 points before January’s injury to 21.5 points per game. She finished as the top scorer in the Big East this season at 20.8 points per game, helping lead the Demons to a fourth straight Big East regular-season title while earning Big East Player of the Week five times.

“I’ve always been a role player,” Schulte said of her college career. “When this was thrown on my plate, I didn’t see it as an unimaginable task, I saw it as playing harder, playing better than I had before, but not playing outside of myself.

“That was a big thing, that I didn’t try to do too much. I wanted to still play my game.”

Bruno and the rest of the conference have seen the remarkable results.

“After Jessica went down — and she was our go-to player — Brooke still would throw the ball to her teammates a lot more than I’d like,” Bruno said. “It’s a beautiful aspect of basketball, to be unselfish is the core of our game. It’s the core of good teams and a really great quality to have.

“She’s starting to understand that for us to be good, (she) has to be a little more scoring-minded.”

Bruno drew the parallel between Schulte’s future profession, nursing, and her approach on the basketball court.

“It’s probably no surprise that she’s getting into nursing because it’s such a service-oriented profession, serving people very minute of every day,” he said. “She’s a service-motivated human being that’s got this really uncanny ability to score.”

Going out in style

Schulte hopes to help lead the Blue Demons to the Final Four, which would be a fitting ending to her journey from Germantown. DePaul reached the Sweet 16 last season.

“My freshman year when I had my first practice, I remember just watching the seniors play and they’d been there so long,” she said. “I was like, I wonder what that’s going to be like my senior year.

“I wouldn’t change anything. I think overall I just loved my experience here. I made a lot of great friends and met a lot of great people here.”

Bruno is just as happy he recruited a highly competitive guard from Clinton County. The deer sausage has been a bonus.

“Basketball doesn’t care where you come from,” Bruno said. “It’s about the qualities that your head, heart and soul have that transcend where you’re from. At DePaul we call that strength up the middle: head, heart and guts. Brooke Schulte has head, heart and guts, and that usually comes from your family.

“I really thought this is what she was. I really did believe she could do this.”

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders

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